Our recent study, conducted to evaluate the performance of PABRA over the last two decades, shows remarkable achievements in terms of productivity and the number of people using improved bean varieties.

Varietal output, proportion of households using the improved bean varieties and the number of improved bean varieties being used by farmers were analyzed.

Overall, improved bean varieties occupy 46 percent of the bean area – increasing by 1.4 percent every year. Approximately 69 percent of surveyed households cultivated improved varieties in 2013, while 15 out of thirty varieties released since 1980 were used. However, a bigger proportion of this area is under varieties developed and released in 1990s as varieties released after 2000 occupy only 9 percent.

More seeds needed at market

Several factors influence the adoption of new improved bean varieties in Malawi. The study found that lack of access to seed was the most common reason given for not growing improved beans. Supply and demand factors contribute to seed access problems. For some farmers, seed of improved varieties is not available in their communities. When available, poorer households said it was not always affordable. Consequently, improved varieties tend to be grown by well-to-do households before they reaches poorer ones.

On average, growing improved varieties was associated with positive impacts. Adopters reported higher yields from each kg of bean planted, and less yield loss compared with non-adopters, thus providing evidence that new varieties released after 2000 are better adapted to the environmental stresses.

The results also reveal that growing improved varieties, especially those released recently, increase the household dietary diversity score by 14.7%. This is evidence that investment in bean improvement contributes significantly to improving wellbeing of the smallholders in Malawi.

Lessons learned:

Our findings show that new, improved, common bean varieties replacing old ones and land races have increased household food security. Regular replacement of old with new improved varieties can make an important contribution towards national food security.

Policies aimed at enhancing bean productivity and promoting adoption of new improved technologies by providing information, strengthening seed systems and seed marketing should be central to food and nutrition security strategies in Malawi.

Photo credit: Neil Palmer / CIAT

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